The Cabaret Hour: Louise Gold And Jason Carr
Jermyn Street Theatre, Saturday 20th April 2002
Review by Emma Shane
© 21 April 2002
The Jermyn Street Theatre’s fourth cabaret hour season is presented by Trilby Productions. The fourth show of the season was sold out, which is perhaps not surprising as it stars the extraordinary Louise Gold, who only a few weeks previously had been featured on primetime television in the BBC’s I Love The Muppets. This cabaret was basically a variation on her cabaret performance at Lauderdale House last February, however there were a few minor alterations, mainly to the jokes.
The show opened with Jason Carr taking his place at the piano, and starting to play An Earful Of Music, Louise Gold, walked on singing it, in her cabaret costume of smart black trousers, sleeveless top, tailcoat, and shoes with slight heels - the same as at Lauderdale. With no overture the audience was a trifle restless, but, undeterred, Ms Gold commanded them to pay her proper attention, simply with the forceful striking movements of her hands, especially her powerful left, (similar to the way Rosina/Katisha in Topsy Turvy commands the chorus to bow to her by pointing her fan strikingly at them). An Earful Of Music is associated with Ethel Merman (who sang it on a solo-album, An Earful Of Merman), and, Louise Gold is often acknowledged as being one of the current era’s best interpreters of Merman’s style-less style of singing. In this introduction we certainly get an earful of Gold. For anyone sitting near the front (and dare I say it probably elsewhere in this little theatre) the result was delightfully deafening. There is nothing quite like hearing a really powerful unmiked singer in such an intimate setting. The next excerpt continued with Gold in her Merman guise, singing an excerpt of The Leader Of The Big-time Band, where like Kim Criswell, she makes a great job of acting out the song. Louise Gold is brilliant at miming, in fact, when it comes to using her body as a tool, she’s even better than Criswell. Merman never actually recorded the number, but Criswell did on a solo album. Which leads one to wonder why no one has ever had Louise Gold do a solo album. Given that performers such as: John Barr, Kim Criswell, Maria Friedman, Ruthie Henshall, Alison Jiear, Caroline O’Conner, and, Issy Van Randwyck amongst others all have one or more solo albums, isn’t it about time Louise Gold had one too?
Having done two numbers in Merman-style, the rest of the introduction consisted of two numbers that were definitely not. First we had A Little Rumba Number, which gives the glorious Gold an opportunity to demonstrate her gift for switching accents very quickly, as she plays both parts of the song (and acts them out), and finally Can Can gives Louise Gold an chance to really bring a little more of her irrepressible personality and flair for singing some quite politically dubious lyrics in the jovial manner in which they were intended. All this time Louise danced about the small stage area with style and great energetic enthusiasm. People say she doesn’t dance, but given half a chance it is quite obvious that she can certainly dance well enough to liven up whatever song she is singing.
The introduction finished with our star half kneeling on the floor. Getting up she remembered, just in time, that the appropriate thing for her to do was welcome the audience to Jermyn Street, before lunching into her introduction proper, by informing us that when they were putting this show together she thought about giving it a dark theme “combining: World History, Nuclear Physics, and feminism in the early works of Walt Disney”. Before deciding it might be better if she just sang some nice songs “So perhaps the show should’ve been called ‘Louise Gold sings some nice songs’”. We (the audience) think she is joking, about the theme issue, but given her background it’s just possible there could be a grain of truth in it, somewhere.
Louise continues by telling us that a few years ago she was involved in “a Mike Leigh project called...” - at this point her act is rudely interrupted by the arrival of a latecomer - “...Hello” adlibs Louise. Interruption over, the unfazed Ms Gold continues by explaining the film was called Topsy Turvy, and telling us how, wanting to impress Mike Leigh, she suggested (enthusiastically) the first thing she should do was learn The Mikado, only to be told ““Louise, The Mikado hasn’t even been written yet””. As it has now been written Louise sits on a chair and delights us with a lovely rendition of The Sun Who’s Rays.
Now a complete contrast, slipping off her chair, Louise stands with her back to the audience, facing the piano, and then, turns round and launches into Lovers For A Day. The song is a powerful number, with an amount of stylistic change. It is, she informs us, by the French songwriter, Marguerite Monnot, whom, as she told us, she kept referring to in rehearsal as Madeline Monnot - who was in fact (as Louise informs us) a manufacturer of sparkly makeup in the 1970’s. (We have to bear in mind here that Louise, like her Mamma Mia contemporaries, is a 70’s girl). This is one of the few numbers of the evening where Louise relied mostly on her vocal abilities to put the song across, and indeed, in contrast to her performance of it at Lauderdale, actually stayed fairly still when she was singing it, only moving her body when changing from verse to chorus or vice versa. Proof, if any was needed, that though she has a real gift for being able to act with her body, she does not have to use it; she can achieve a lot just with her vocal gifts, if she so chooses. She is an experienced performer, who seems to know just which approach is best suited to the effect she is trying to create.
Time for another contrast, this time a Sondheim medley. Louise introduced it by telling us a little about the two Sondheim shows she has been in, and in particular recounting tale of sharing a dressing-room with Maria Friedman (whom Jason Carr is accompanying in a show next week) and Jaqui Dankworth in Merrily We Roll Along. Only, attuned to this audience being a little different to the one at Lauderdale, she seems to have changed tack midway through recounting her own reaction to Stephen Sondehim’s card to her and giving it quieter but less modest tone. Then she launches into excerpts of two of the songs she sang, part of The Gun Song from Assassins and The Blob from Merrily We Roll Along. For The Gun Song she fetched a bag of props, and soon we were in the thick of a demonstration of Louise Gold’s considerable versatility, skill, manual dexterity and ability to create art out of something that could easily be chaos, in this instance, singing while handling a variety of props, by touch. Her singing is just as magnificent and skilled as her movements. For The Blob she was un-encumbered, although she did have Jason Carr as her backing chorus. Those two numbers had been fast loud and funny, in complete contrast the next was the quiet and sincere Children Will Listen. Louise sat on the chair and just sang it with simple sincerity, using her hands and face (especially her sparkling brown eyes) to convey emotion. It is a beautiful song, befitting a mature woman with as sweet and lovely a voice as Louise Gold.
However, Louise Gold is much more than just a terrific singing-actress, and the next medley found her demonstrating her considerable versatility as a comedy singer, and one all the more apt given her appearance on television a few weeks earlier. After quickly tidying away her props from the earlier Sondheim number, she informs us that when she was about twenty her agent sent her for an audition where “The leading lady was a pig” (at which the audience laughed, unfazed Louise continued) “the leading man was a frog and the comedian was a bear.” she switches accent for the punch line “no he’s not he’s wearing a neckerchief”, and then poses for the audience, having just delivered one of Fozzie Bear’s jokes rather better than Fozzie ever did it (as one might expect from the girl who once saved Fozzie’s act). She continues that The pig asked her if she could keep her hands off the frog, the frog asked her if she could do silly voices, and the bear said “Wocka, wocka, wocka”. By now all the audience had a pretty good idea that Louise’s next medley of songs would have something to do with The Muppet Show. Bearing in mind how puppets can cross boundaries, The Muppets first British performer then presented us with her Around The World With The Muppets medley. She started with Its A Small World (in her own voice), and then moved on to The Girlfriend of The Whirling Dervish. In the middle of this number she picks up her large yellow torch and informs us she has brought her own lighting. “Excuse me please” says Louise, making her way up the aisle, along the back aisle, round the side aisle and finally re-entering the stage by jumping through the side aisle gate onto the stage, after which she continued to play her torch on the audience and across the opposite wall, singing all the while. The Jermyn Street Theatre has a curtained backdrop, for the next excerpt, Louise stood partially behind one of these curtains, so she could wrap it around herself while singing a Hawaiian War Chant, in an accent that might well answer the question “Whatever happened to Annie Sue pig?” for that is exactly who she sounded like, as well she might (given that character was specially designed for her). Unfortunately the audience seemed inclined to laugh at this number, and Louise only just managed to stop herself from corpsing too. This was followed by a Tico Tico, for which Louise simply stood in the middle of the stage and well, performed it, jumping and dancing about, while engaging in some pretty fast tempo singing, which she managed surprising well (as she is not exactly one of natures fast tempo singers), and even her diction was by no means bad, we could actually hear most of the lyrics clearly. Our muppeteer concluded her Muppet medley with Its A Small World, but reprising most of the accents she had used in the medley.
While Louise tidies away her torch and removes her tailcoat, there are a few remarks about Maria Friedman’s condition, and how because of space constraints won’t be doing anything like as much moving around in her show next week, (I can think of some performers who wouldn’t let a little thing like that that stop them).
Moving on, Louise, instructs Jason to hold the piano lid firmly, and hops up onto the piano to sing two rather unsentimental love songs, the first is Its Alright With Me by Cole Porter, and the second, Someone To Lay Down Beside Me, was written three decades later by Karla Bonhoff. Louise sings both very well, as one would expect from a performer as good as she is, and perched on the piano looks rather as if she’s enjoying herself at the same time. Hopping off the piano, for no apparent reason, Louise tells us that she and Jason have worked together quite a few times now, in fact apart from this cabaret act, they have worked together three times, on one revue and two lost musicals, they also both contributed to (although not together) two charity concerts. As a result of the revue, Noel/Cole: Let’s Do It, they are both honorary citizens of Memphis Tennessee. Leaving Jason to move the chair, Louise goes off-stage, but surprisingly quickly gets herself ready to return armed, on her left, with a puppet, of The Queen! Unlike Lauderdale (and partly thanks to her appearance on primetime television over Easter) I think most of the audience had already grasped the fact that Louise has some experience as a puppeteer. None-the-less we were a little surprised at her daring to do a political satire of royalty at the present time. However, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised, given her political satire background. Jason plays in Louise’s entrance with a familiar tune, The British National Anthem (which is also used by various other countries as the tune for their National Anthem’s, and itis also the tune for My Country is Of Thee). We then had the rather special treat of watching Spitting Image’s Leading Puppeteer, sitting on a chair, singing and puppeteering a very Spitting Image version of Class, in the Spitting Image voice of The Queen, which she herself originated (although I still think it sounds uncannily like a certain actress in Bleak Moments). It is incredibly apt that a performer such as Louise Gold should be marking (as her introduction to the number made clear) The Queen’s Golden Jubilee with a piece of political satire such as this, after all, 49 years earlier, in a revue called Turn It Up, her mother was among the Unity Theatre players who marked Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation with the song Coronation Mugs by Lionel Bart and Harvey Schneider.
At the number’s conclusion Louise showed off her skill and dexterity by using her right hand (it is a ‘live hands’ puppet) to pull a handkerchief from the puppet’s pocket and have the puppet blow its nose.
Divesting herself of the puppet, Louise Gold returned to the stage, purely as herself, and remembers, again just in time, that she has to thank everyone, in this case: pianist Jason Carr, director Nigel Plaskitt, producers Katherine Ives and Tim McArthur of Trilby Productions, Paul Jomain “Without whom The Queen wouldn’t have looked nearly so good”, and the staff of the Jermyn Street Theatre. That done she gives us her finale numbers, a sandwich of If Love Were All with I Am What I Am as the filling. She is well aware that it is a cliché, but as she so rightly points out, like all good clichés, that is because it is apt, especially for performers like her. And as if to prove the point she pours her heart and talent into the songs, such that she becomes the songs and they becomes a part of her, and quite rightly so. For actress, singer, and, puppeteer Louise Gold certainly does have a talent to amuse. And she is indeed her own special creation, or, a culmination of a richly artistic non-conformist heritage.
Needless to say the boisterous audience went quite wild, giving her thundering applause. Louise and Jason disappeared off-stage, but only for a moment, they soon returned, this time with Louise wearing a cute little hand-and-rod puppet on her left arm. Sitting on a chair, Louise Gold dedicated this last number, Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher’s Rainbow Connection, to her late Muppet Show colleagues Jim Henson and Richard Hunt. As at Lauderdale she sang about a third of the song as her character and two thirds as herself. Louise sings the song beautifully as one would expect from one of The Muppets’s top singers. She also puppeteers it with all the grace and style befitting an artiste who learnt her puppeteering craft from The Master himself. The number is just beautiful to hear and watch. It is also a great privilege to watch a really experienced puppeteer perform live. Unfortunately the audience, while undoubtedly enjoying Ms Gold’s performance, seemed to laugh rather too much, I thought, at the puppet character. In a way there was perhaps a certain poetic justice, given the number of times this actress has been known to corpse on stage. Fortunately Louise Gold has a commanding stage presonce, the sort that can keep a restless audience in check. She has not been a performer with the anarchic Muppets for nothing (and two years as Louise Plowright’s side-kick in Mamma Mia probably also helps in this situation). However, I still felt the audience response was a little out of place for such a beautiful piece of artistry.
All in all the show compared quite favourably to its Lauderdale version, and her diction, which is her only real weakness as a singer, was considerably improved, in fact it was excellent. The jokes were just as good. The audience response was excellent for the jokes, and they clearly enjoyed watching Louise Gold, for as a performer she is so refreshingly different, that it is a real joy to watch her have an opportunity to display to the full her considerable versatility. Unfortunately the audience did seem to be a little harder to control than the Lauderdale audience, with an amount of slightly in appropriate laughter. There are very few performers who could attempt to command an appropriate response from an audience the way Louise Gold did in this cabaret. In fact the only other performer I can think of with the necessary commanding stage presonce to do that sort of thing is her Mamma Mia colleague Louise Plowright.
One of the truly great things about this evenings performance is Louise Gold’s sheer diversity, and her ability to change quickly (and given the time constraints in this performance some of the changes were very quick indeed) from one style of song to another, from belting actress to mellow ballad singer to gifted comedienne. Very few actors could cope with changing the style of their performance so quickly and absolutely, indeed I can only think of one other actor (a guy who played a nutcase armed robber in a soap some years ago) with such an ability to change style so very quickly. In addition to an ability to change performance style quickly, as a singer Louise Gold is also adept at varying her performance style even with the same material. She seems to be aware of all the ways she could do a number, but prejudiced in favour of none of them; just because she performed a given number a certain way at Lauderdale, or indeed at any point further back in her career, did not necessarily mean she would do it exactly the same way at Jermyn Street. Whatever her style is, though, it does seem that she is well suited both the spirit of the Jermyn Street theatre, and, to Trilby Productions’s refreshingly daring show style. Though her pipes can generate an incredible volume (like a real Merman-Horn) she is skilled at using her voice, and knows very well how to play on the acoustics of a venue, so she does not deafen her audience, unless it will really be of benefit to the manner in which she is performing a given song.
All in all it was a wonderful show, and a real thrill to have this opportunity to see singer-actress-and-puppeteer Louise Gold demonstrate her considerable versatility, as a performer she is far more than just one thing. As a singer alone she does not seem to belong to any particular style (a bit like an architect not caring to belong to any particular school) she is variously: the best Merman-style belter around, a sweetly sincere ballad singer, a highly amusing vocal acrobat, and, a hilariously Muppet-like comedy singer. As a puppeteer she is skilled and artistic, with the fluidity of movement that comes with good training and experience; more than capable of holding her own against any top puppeteer, but then she is Henson-trained, and a veteran of three major TV puppet shows, and some notable films. Above all she is just one of the most sensational inspirational celebrational, and (dare I say it) muppetational performers around. It is a real thrill to watch her stand on the Jermyn Street stage sharing her world with a delighted audience, entertained by her incredible talent to amuse.